The bombs that fell on Baghdad Wednesday drove Washington area faithful to churches, mosques and synagogues yesterday in numbers unusually high for the middle of the week. Far from unanimous over the rightness of the U.S. attack, they all nonetheless sought solace during what had been an unnerving 24 hours.

Some worshippers said they wanted reassurance that somehow, soon, the world would be right again. Others said they believed the conflict will be lengthy, and they wanted to know that they were not alone. Some prayed for the safety of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, and a few admitted that they were struggling over why God would allow war.

"So many people have been praying that this not happen, and still it happened," Rhonda Zaharna, an American University professor, said after noon prayers at the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW. "You have to ask, why?"

Zaharna and about two dozen other Muslims were gathered at the mosque, a larger than usual turnout there, according to an official. Leaders at the few other religious congregations holding services reported a similar upswing.

Beth Sholom Congregation, an Orthodox Jewish body, had no trouble finding the 10 men necessary to convene services at either its Maryland or D.C. locations. And St. Matthew's Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue NW had a crowd of more than 500 for its noon Mass, about 10 times the normal number.

"I go to church every Sunday but not here. I'm not even Catholic," said Renee Van Dyke-Walker, an insurance underwriter who had gone to St. Matthew's to calm her fears. "I'm here to pray together for peace."

"I don't come everyday to Mass, but this is special because of the war," said Margie Hasley, an employee of a nonprofit organization. Hasley said she did not want war, but "really we didn't have much choice."

"I'm worried right now about the plain of Armageddon," Hasley said quietly, referring to an end-of-the-world scenario in the Bible. "Is the Bible coming true right now? {The Middle East} is the land where it was supposed to happen."

Hasley and Van Dyke-Walker had heard Cardinal James A. Hickey depart from the official position of the Catholic bishops that military force against Iraq was premature. Intervention by the United States, Hickey preached, "has become a necessity to resist aggression."

Hickey's words were pleasing to Nan and Owen Hendon, a McLean couple marking their 38th wedding anniversary. "I fully support my president," said Nan Hendon. "I think he did what he should have done."

Zaharna, a Palestinian American, argued just the opposite at the Islamic Center. What the U.S. bombs revealed, she said, was that this country considers violence an acceptable means of resolving conflict. Arabs look at other areas of the world that are occupied by foreign troops, and they wonder why the United States hasn't moved to free those countries, she said.

She cited the Gaza Strip, where her grandmother lives. When a friend called Wednesday night to tell her about the bombing, her thoughts immediately went to her grandmother and other relatives.

But thinking about her grandmother also gave Zaharna a measure of comfort. Her grandmother, she said, "has suffered through four wars, her children are scattered around the globe, and still she prays." Such a faith is what Zaharna is seeking.

So yesterday she sat on a rug in the mosque, alone in the section reserved for women. Her palms were turned upward, and her lips moved with familiar passages from the Koran. She bowed and kneeled, then offered up her own personal prayer.

"The Koran teaches us that God works things out," she said later. "I was praying to see what the lesson is out of all this. The lesson is, I don't know."

Worshipers were drawn to several other religious sites yesterday. More than 300 people assembled at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at noon for a special Mass for peace. The homilist was Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, who prayed that Desert Storm "accomplish quickly the liberation of Kuwait and peace and justice prevail."

Washington Cathedral on Massachusetts Avenue NW opened its Bethlehem Chapel last night and will keep it open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the war.

Other religious services centered on the gulf crisis are planned. These include the regular 8 o'clock service tonight at Temple Sinai on Military Road NW, and the 11 a.m. Sunday worship at Washington Cathedral.